Wednesday, February 01, 2012

User personas and users journeys for website review and design

In January I had the opportunity to spend three days in the office of our friends and colleagues at CommsConsult to plan the future development of the Research to Action website.

Research to Action was set up in the context of the DFID funded R4D project, managed by CABI with CommsConsult and Euforic Services. It continues what we had started in 2009 with the CommsCorner blog, a simple website to provide examples of good communications practice to support research uptake.

The site has seen its audience steadily increasing over the past months. Some specific contents have proved to be rather engaging for the site readers, being read, shared and commented on several times. The growing number of Twitter followers are helping to establish the site niche, and give the contents produced more mileage through different communities. More important, several guest bloggers have contributed their experiences and cases through the site.

The way the site has developed over the past year, required us to re-look at it, its value proposition, the audiences it intends to speak to and, equally important, the ‘online neighbourhood’ in which it coexist with many other initiatives. Ultimately, we want to redesign the functionality and usability of  Research to Action to ensure it provides a useful online space to access resources and commentaries on maximising research uptake and impact.

As Betty Allen explains in her blog post on Research to Action:
We underwent a process of user experience modelling by creating fictional profiles of a group of R2A users. These so-called ‘user personas’ are a well-known method for ensuring that the content of a website meets the needs of those that will be using it. [...]With the user personas we were able to create five different typical user journeys to the R2A site, while taking a step back and approaching the content from different perspectives. This enabled us to truthfully asses whether the content is structured in a clear and beneficial way for our users.”[read on...]
While I enjoyed very much this process and the results it brought in terms of reviewing the site plan and developing update wire frames, I also found it challenging at times. Especially because we were reviewing an existing site. we always had to remind ourselves not too look to much at what we had, but at what we aimed to have. The possibility to look at the uses cases and journey as we progressed in the review helped us to keep the focus on the different audiences the site intends to speak to.